IRONWOOD TOWNSHIP - About 185 local residents sampled some of the best food the area has to offer at the Gogebic Community College Foundation's fifth annual "Taste of the Gogebic Range" Monday at GCC.
The event featured 13 area restaurants from Ironwood, Hurley, Watersmeet, Gile and Manitowish Waters, Wis. Attendees received tickets to try samples from each one. Tastes ranged from chicken Caesar wraps to applewood smoked pork ribs to flaming bananas foster and more.
Participating businesses included Brewster's Northwoods Bar and Grill, Branding Iron Steak House, Debbie Brown Catering, Z's Cheese Haus, Burgers Bar and Grill, Smokey's, Iron Nugget, Breakwater Restaurant, Maplewood Steakhouse, Manny's Restaurant, Lac Vieux Desert Resort Casino, Olde Suffolk Ale House and Golden Dragon Chinese Restaurant.
The "Taste" serves as a fundraiser for the GCC Foundation's scholarship fund, and Foundation director Kelly Marczak said she was happy with the turnout.
Marczak said it's a benefit for everyone involved, from the Foundation to the attendees and the businesses who participate. "It's just a great way for people to get a little exposure for their businesses, especially if they're new," Marczak said.
Several businesses participated for the first time this year, including Debbie Brown Catering of Ironwood. Brown said she was enjoying the experience. "I like it - it's fun," she said. She appreciated meeting new people and sharing some of her specialities that helped get her business started, like homemade tuna salad, lasagna and monster bars. After seeing how other businesses present their samples, Brown said she's already planning something special for next year's event.
"Some of the restaurants that are fortunate enough to support us every year ... like to try and offer something new that might not be on their menu yet," Marczak said. "Some of them do it just to support the college, so that's great."
One business trying something new was Burgers Bar and Grill, of Gile, offering Jamaican-me-crazy chicken wings. After slowly introducing it to some customers, they decided to try it on a larger scale, co-owner Ricardo Luna said. "We want people to know we serve more than just burgers," he said.
Attendees were encouraged to vote for their favorite samples to award Tasters' Choice trophies in first and second place. Restaurants were also vying for the Best in Show award in first and second place, decided by a panel of three anonymous judges. The judges considered overall display, sample presentation and taste when choosing Best in Show.
Winners were not available at press time.
The awards helped foster an atmosphere of friendly competition. Last year's Tasters' Choice winners, the Branding Iron, returned "to defend the championship," part owner Leeann Johnson said. "We're very competitive." The steakhouse offered pecan wood-smoked, bacon-wrapped pork loin with basil pesto and parmesan bread crumbs with penne pasta tossed in three-cheese Alfredo sauce, garnished with an edible orchid.
Marczak said the best part of the event is the social aspect. "How people come together, just listening to conversations," she said. "People that haven't seen each other in awhile, (it) gives them a nice, informal way to catch up and chit chat. It's nice we can bring them all together."
One group included Delores Vaara, of Ironwood, who attended with three friends. She returned after attending for the first time last year and having a great time. "It's wonderful," she said.
Halfway through the evening, Vaara said one of her favorite samples so far was a stuffed mushroom from Breakwater Restaurant. "I love that mushroom," she said.
Also supporting the event were restaurants who weren't able to physically be at the event, Marczak said. "We asked if they would still like to be represented," she said, so many donated gift certificates that were given as door prizes. Two local florists also donated centerpiece arrangements that were given away.
Some of the students who benefit from the Foundation's activities and scholarships were also on hand to help things running smoothly. Student athletes were kept busy busing tables and pouring drinks for attendees.
The event wouldn't be such a success without support from all around, Marczak said. "We're fortunate we have a supportive community," she said. "The ticket sales went well and the businesses participating, coming out to support us each year - we couldnt do it without that.
"We just want to thank the businesses ... and also our volunteers that come out and work it," she said.